World Court demands that Israel dismantle the West Bank barrier
- July 10: The International Court of Justice at The Hague finds that the vast concrete-and-steel wall built by Israel throughout the West Bank was erected for political, not security purposes, and orders Israel to tear it down and compensate the victims of what the Court calls an Israeli "land grab." The Court also says that signatories to the Geneva Conventions, such as Britain and the US, are required by international law to enforce the ruling. It also encourages the UN to impose sanctions against Israel, a measure that is unlikely to survive US opposition. Palestinians celebrate the ruling and say they hope it will galvanize public opinion in their favor. "Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated," the court rules in a 14-1 decision with the sole American judge dissenting. Like many of the World Court's ruling, this is non-binding. The court finds that construction of the first 125 miles of what is planned as a 435-mile barrier "has involved the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land and resources, the disruption of the lives of thousands of protected civilians and the de facto annexation of large areas of territory." It says that the land seizures further entrenched illegally built Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In doing so, Israel is responsible for illegal destruction of homes and the forced removal of Palestinians from their villages, which is changing the demographic face of the West Bank. The court concludes that the wall and fence severely impedes the Palestinian right of self-determination in breach of the Geneva convention and international humanitarian law. Israel, who has long called the huge barrier -- a series of walls and 26-foot high walls with barbed wire, trenches and electronic motion detectors -- a "fence," says the wall will stay as long as Palestinian terrorists strike Israeli targets. Israel also refuses to acknowledge that the Court has any jurisdiction over its actions. (Guardian)
CIA and White House lies about Iraq's WMD programs documented by 9/11 committee
- July 10: The CIA repeatedly warned the Bush administration that the evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda was "murky" and conflicting, according to the conclusions of the Senate's 9/11 investigation. The Bush administration has repeatedly said that it had strong, well-documented evidence of such a connection. "The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda throughout the 1990's but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship," the Senate report says, adding that the CIA's assessment that "there was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in an al-Qaeda attack was responsible and objective." As recently as last month, Dick Cheney told a television audience that "there's clearly been a relationship" between Hussein and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and that "the evidence is overwhelming." However, the commission cites five different highly classified intelligence summaries prepared after 9/11 that show any such ties were difficult to prove at best. The CIA reported that it had "no credible information that Baghdad had foreknowledge of the 11 September attacks or any other al-Qaeda strike" and that "the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda appears to more closely resemble that of two independent actors trying to exploit each other."
- Cheney has also insisted in recent days that the administration is sure that a Czech intelligence report citing contact between 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta and a Iraqi intelligence official in April 2001 is factual; the Senate report proves that the CIA had long dismissed the Czech report as bogus. "The CIA judged that other evidence indicated that these meetings likely never occurred," the Senate report says. The Senate report also cites other information available to the CIA that suggested that Iraq would have been wary of any dealings with al-Qaeda, noting that the agency was aware that the Iraqi government had a pattern of arresting and executing Islamic extremists, and that the Iraqi government had sought "to prevent Iraq youth from joining al-Qaeda." According to the report, then-CIA director George Tenet sometimes went well beyond the conclusions of his agency's analysts in telling Bush officials what they wanted to hear. In Tenet's February 2003 appearance before the Senate, the report says, Tenet told the senators, "Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to al-Qaeda. It has also provided training in poisons and gases to two Al Qaeda associates." The CIA made no such claims.
- Similarly, Bush administration claims that Iraq was actively attempting to reconstitute its embryonic and long-abandoned nuclear program were contradicted by CIA findings. But even when the CIA attempted to justify that conclusion, its investigations were flawed and "close-minded," according to the report. The committee gives the example of the CIA's findings that high-strength aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq were for a nuclear program; the committee found that CIA personnel did not invite experts from the Department of Energy to participate in tests on the tubes. When asked why not, an agency official told the committee, "because we funded it. It was our testing. We were trying to prove some things that we wanted to prove with the testing." The CIA was later forced to admit that the tubes were slated for use in constructing rockets.
- The committee's report pounds the Bush administration's lies that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Sudan, saying that Tenet was in grave error by not fact-checking Bush's infamous 2003 State of the Union address where Bush made the claim. The committee slams the CIA for not revealing that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research had found that the claim was based on forged documents.
- Before the war, the intelligence community's major conclusions about Iraq's biological and chemical weapons programs far exceeded what could be drawn from available intelligence and overstated the judgments of intelligence analysts, the Senate committee concludes in its report. The October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate stated that "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons." But the Senate panel found that conclusion "overstated both what was known and what intelligence analysts judged about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons holdings." The Senate report also rejects the contention that "all key aspects" of Iraq's offensive biological weapons program had been active before the war. Information reviewed by the committee showed this conclusion was "not supported by the underlying intelligence." While the intelligence did show that Iraq was renovating or expanding facilities that had been "associated" with Iraq's biological programs and was engaged in research that had biological applications, "few reports suggested specifically that the activity was related" to biological warfare.
- The report is particularly scathing over the CIA's handling of intelligence from the Iraqi code-named Curveball, finding that the agency refused to admit how unreliable the source was. "Curveball" has later been proven to have been a plant by Ahmad Chalabi to feed the CIA misinformation that would lead the US to invade Iraq and secure Chalabi a place of power in the new Iraqi government.
- While the committee finds that the CIA was relatively accurate in judging that Iraq was attempting to build short- and medium-range missiles that would have violated the UN restrictions on its weaponry, the CIA's warnings about the possible threat of unmanned drone aircraft designed to drop biotoxins or chemical weapons on the US were specious and based on nothing more than speculation. The panel also says the CIA refused to share information with other intelligence agencies that raised doubts about the claim that Iraq was intending to use drone aircraft to attack the United States. "This lack of information sharing may have led some analysts to agree to a position that they otherwise would not have supported," the panel says. (New York Times/Truthout, Frank Rich [PDF file])
- July 10: The CIA deleted about 20% of the 9/11 committee's report as released to the public, saying that the deleted portions needed to remain secret in the interests of national security. The deletions have renewed questions about whether the CIA is trying to cover its own shortcomings by suppressing information. The CIA originally asked that about half the committee's report be blacked out. However, Congressional officials say that while the agency's original requests included many items that were "unreasonable and arbitrary," they now believe that most of the sections that will remain blacked out relate to national security. But Tom Blanton, the executive director of the National Security Archive, a research group affiliated with George Washington University, asserted that the deletions were intended to prevent embarrassment at the agency. Blanton says the public report deleted the committee's reasoning for three key conclusions: that the agency knowingly misled Secretary of State Colin Powell; that it withheld reservations about its information from an October 2002 white paper that was instrumental in making the case for war against Iraq; and that it misled Democratic Senator Carl Levin. Congressional officials said some of those portions might still be restored to the public version. (New York Times/Truthout)
- July 10: Florida state officials acknowledge that the state elections officials used a "flawed" method to create a list of people believed to be convicted felons and therefore to be purged from election rolls. As a result, the state has decided to drop the purge and no longer use the controversial list. Secretary of State Glenda Hood announces that an "unintentional and unforeseen discrepancy...related to Hispanic classification" has forced the state to eliminate the entire list from further consideration this year. Of the 48,000 names on the list, only 61 are Hispanic, and over 22,000 are African-American. About 8% of Florida voters are Hispanic and 11% are black. In a presidential-election battleground state that decided the 2000 race by supposedly giving George W. Bush a margin of only 537 votes, the effect could be significant: black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, while Hispanics in Florida tend to vote Republican. (Interestingly, while Florida officials have said that anyone whose information in the prison databases did not match perfectly with their voter registration information, prison databases have listed Hispanics as "white." Therefore, every Hispanic in the database should have been on the purge list.) Over 28,000 of the voters on the list are registered Democrats, while a mere 9,521 are Republicans. And over 2100 voters, almost all Democrats, who have had their voting rights legally restored have still appeared on the list. Elections officials of Florida's Republican administration deny any partisan motive in use of the method they adopted, and noted that it had been approved as part of a settlement of a civil rights lawsuit. "This was absolutely unintentional," says Nicole de Lara, spokeswoman for the Florida secretary of state, Glenda Hood, an appointee of Governor Jeb Bush, the president's brother. "The matching criteria were approved by several interested parties in the lawsuit, and the court. I don't know how it got by all those people without anyone noticing." The Florida State Department is looking into options for correcting the "error."
- Anita Earls, one of the lawyers for plaintiffs in the civil rights suit, says state officials had not given them the kind of access to data that might have uncovered the flaw. The method uses race as one of several factors in determining whether a felon has registered to vote. If a voter's first name, last name and date of birth are the same as those of a convicted felon but the race is different, the name is not put on the list for potential purging. But the database of felons has only five variables for race: white, black, Asian, Indian and unknown. And a voter registered as Hispanic whose name and birth date matched a felon's would be left off the purge list unless his race was listed as unknown. Florida undertook a similar purge of voter rolls in 2000, but that list was shown to include the names of many who were not felons. The new effort at such a purge, begun by Governor Bush's administration in May, was supposed to be free of those problems. But after a state judge last week ordered the release of the current list, it became clear that thousands of felons who had been granted clemency were still on it. Democrats said yesterday that the latest disclosure should be the last straw. "Either this administration is acting incompetently in regard to voters' rights," says Scott Maddox, the Democratic state chairman, "or they have ill will toward a certain class of voters. Either way, it's unacceptable." Maddox said that "[t]he honorable thing to do is throw the list out and not purge people erroneously on the eve of election." Some county election supervisors say they won't use the state's list to purge their voter rolls. "It's an impossible task to do properly," says Ion Sancho, the supervisor in Leon County. Responding to the state's decision to abandon the list, Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute says, "It's unfortunate it took this long to come to the realization that the list was just fraught with errors and it wasn't meant to be. But it's a good thing that they realized the error of their ways." (New York Times/Brown Watch, Miami Herald/Truthout, Washington Monthly)
- July 10: The Associated Press prints one of the few comprehensive stories about the 17-month slaughter in Darfur, Sudan to appear in the US's mainstream media. Arab gunmen on horses and camels, backed by bombers and helicopter gunships, have razed hundreds of black African villages, killed tens of thousands and driven more than 1 million from their homes. "They say they don't want to see black skin on this land again," says Issa Bushara, whose brother and cousin were gunned down in front of their horrified families during an attack by the Janjaweed militia. International pressure is mounting on the government of Sudan to end the carnage; US officials have now joined UN officials in visiting the region. The crisis developed from long-standing tensions between nomadic Arab herders and their farming neighbors. It became violent after two black African rebel groups took up arms in February 2003 over what they consider unfair treatment by the government in faraway Khartoum in their struggle over political influence and resources in Darfur. The death toll in the region is predicted, conservatively, to reach 350,000 by the end of the year if drastic action is not taken. Tens of thousands of refugees are pouring over the border into nearby Chad, causing that poor nation problems in providing for their needs. UN and private humanitarian aid agencies say they are overwhelmed by the crisis. (AP/Truthout)
- July 10: Ex-Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, fired on July 9, accuses the Bush administration of firing her and others who oppose administration policies. Chambers was placed on adminstrative leave seven months ago after complaining to the press about budget cuts from the White House. The Park Police are charged with protecting the various monuments and public buildings in Washington. She was fired just two and half hours after her attorneys filed a demand for immediate reinstatement through the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent agency that ensures federal employees are protected from management abuses. "It wasn't the reaction we expected," she says. "But we weren't surprised. But it's not about me. I'm a player in it. It's got far-reaching implications. The American people should be afraid of this kind of silencing of professionals in any field. We should be very concerned as American citizens that people who are experts in their field either can't speak up, or, as we're seeing now in the parks service, won't speak up." National Park Service officials said Chambers broke rules barring public comment about budget discussions and prohibiting lobbying by someone in her position. She says she did nothing wrong except argue for adequate funding for the Park Police, which falls under NPS authority -- and perhaps fail to understand that she was required to "toe the party line." "I came from outside and was naive about federal agencies," she says. "I had no idea that's what they wanted me to do. I really believed that's what they wanted, for me to be frank with them." The current National Park Service budget is operating on a $600 million shortfall because of inadequate funding from the Bush administration. In an affidavit filed in her effort to be reinstated, Chambers said her troubles with the bureaucrats in the park service and the Interior Department began with budget processing in 2003. "Each time I would sound [the alarm] just a little louder," she says, "but always internally. It culminated with the notice I put on the director of the park service...that we have problems." In that November 28 memo, Chambers wrote that the budget crisis put new hires in doubt, potentially bringing the Park Police staff to its lowest level since 1987, and seriously undermined her officers' ability to protect the "icons" [the Washington Monument and other landmarks]. "My professional judgment, based upon 27 years of police service, six years as chief of police, and countless interactions with police professionals across the country, is that we are at a staffing and resource crisis in the United States Park Police -- a crisis that, if allowed to continue, will almost surely result in the loss of life or the destruction of one of our nation's most valued symbols of freedom and democracy," she wrote.
- Three days after an article featuring an interview with Chambers appeared in the Washington Post, she was placed on administrative leave. She says the suspension effectively put a chill on National Park superintendents who were facing their own shortfalls. She says she has spoken with current officials who know the situation but fear for their jobs. According to the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees, a group of more than 250 former NPS officials, the Interior Department sent out memos to park superintendents to make further reductions -- and "to mislead the news media and public about the service cuts in order to avoid ... 'public controversy.'" The memos argue against discussing the situation with the media, then adds that "if you feel you must inform the public through a press release," refer to "service level adjustments" rather than "cuts." (CNN)
- July 10: India's former defense minister George Fernandes was strip-searched twice in Washington's Dulles Airport when he was defense minister, once while on an official visit to Washington and another time while en route to Brazil, according to former deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott. In his book Engaging India - Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb, Talbott says he was told this angrily by Fernandes himself when he had visited India in February this year as part of a delegation assembled by the Confederation of Indian Industry. "Our group held a series of meetings with senior officials Brajesh Mishra, Yashwant Sinha and George Fernandes, who all voiced some unease that the American government was treating Musharraf with kid gloves," Talbott writes. "But they also expressed general satisfaction with the way things were going between the US and India." Talbott continues, "Fernandes, as defense minister, made much of how American-Indian military cooperation was thriving. India, in short, had weathered the storm of American sanctions and was now well on its way to establishing itself as a military partner. Just as we were saying good-bye to Fernandes, a member of our delegation innocently asked him when he would next be coming to Washington. His demeanor abruptly changed. It was as though he was glad to have an excuse to tell us how he really felt about our country. Ignoring an Ethiopian delegation that was already filing into his office and taking its seats, Fernandes regaled us with the story of how he had been strip-searched by officers of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service at Dulles Airport when he arrived for an official visit in early 2002, and again, in mid-2003, when he was passing through the US on his way to Brazil. He seemed to enjoy our stupefaction at this tale. He and other Indians who later referred to the incident clearly regarded it as more than merely a lapse of protocol or just an another example of the post-9/11 excesses and indignities that air travellers had to endure for the sake of security. The Indians saw it as a symptom of a deep-rooted widespread condescension, or worse, on the part of the West toward the East." (Sify)
- July 10: In a long, easygoing interview with John Kerry, John Edwards, and their respective wives, Kerry attempts to defend his vote to give Bush the authority to use military force against Iraq. The Bush campaign is successfully portraying Kerry as a "flip-flopper" largely because of his vote. Kerry says, "I believe, based on the information we have, it was the correct vote." But he adds, "What I voted for was an authority for the president to go to war as a last resort if Saddam Hussein did not disarm and we needed to go to war. I think the way he went to war was a mistake." Edwards continues, "I know you want to make this black and white, but the difference is -- if John Kerry were president of the United States, we would never be in this place. He would never have done what George Bush did. He would have done the hard work to build the alliances and the support system." When asked by interviewer Lesley Stahl, "Why build an alliance if they didn't have weapons of mass destruction?," Edwards responds, "We would have found out, that's the point." Stahl later asks, "One of the Republican attack lines is that you all are all mega-millionaires who are running on economic populism," a reflection on a favorite Bush attack theme. Kerry retorts, "Is this coming from millionaire George Bush? And millionaire Dick Cheney? And millionaire Rumsfeld? And all the rest? This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life." His wife, the outspoken Teresa Heinz Kerry, adds, "First of all, those very same people never criticized my late husband [the late Republican senator John Heinz] for his money or his wealth. In fact, they used it -- and his money was just dandy. Secondly, I find it un-American for people to criticize someone and say they're not deserved for any position whether because they have too much or too little, or because they're black or they're white. That's un-American." Elizabeth Edwards continues, "I just want to say one thing and this is that these two men voted against tax cuts that would have benefited them. Isn't that what we want? A leader who looks at the greater good instead of what simply what benefits the people himself, or the people in his own class for their donors or whatever else you're looking at? These men did what was right for all Americans and it seems to me that's an enormous test of character -- whether you're willing to step out and do something against your own self interest." (CBS)
- July 11: Britain's intelligence agency, MI6, took the drastic step of withdrawing key intelligence used by the Blair adminstration to justify the invasion of Iraq; the withdrawal will be part of the Butler report to be issued later in the week. And a former Defense Intelligence Staff member, Dr. Brian Jones, says he never saw any of the evidence touted by Blair that "proved" Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. John Morrison, the former deputy chief of DIS, adds that Blair's claims on Iraqi WMDs were met by disbelief in Whitehall. "The prime minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed," he says. Morrison says he could "almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall" when Blair told Parliament the threat from Iraq was "current and serious." He accuses Blair of making public statements which went beyond what experts could have reasonably concluded from the same evidence. "In moving from what the dossier said Saddam had, which was a capability possibly, to asserting that Iraq presented a threat, then the prime minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed," he says. As the anticipation over the Butler report grows, Tony Blair says he will not step down as prime minister. Even though Lord Butler has decided to withhold the worst of his conclusions to prevent the media from going after Blair with abandon, the report is expected to castigate Blair for failing to take the proper responsibility for the run-up to war with Iraq. Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education, says that he met with Blair to ask him to stay, but realized immediately that Blair had no intention of resigning. "There was a lot of speculation whizzing around at the time," Clarke says. "I thought the speculation was bollocks but I decided I would go to Tony, because I very much wanted him to stay. I would never normally say that, but there was a rather frenetic atmosphere and you never quite know how people react to those situations. I wondered if there was any uncertainty in his mind about where he stood, but actually it was immediately clear that the conversation was redundant." (BBC, Independent/Truthout)
"Curveball" exposed as a fraud and alcoholic; warnings of his unreliability before invasion were deemed "unwelcome"
- July 11: The Iraqi engineer code-named "Curveball," who provided so much false and misleading intelligence that the Bush administration used to bolster its desire to invade Iraq, is described by the only American to meet with him as an alcoholic whose information was totally unreliable, particularly the information Curveball provided about a so-called secret fleet of mobile biological laboratories. The unnamed CIA official repeatedly warned his superiors about Curveball's unreliability, but, according to e-mails from the deputy director of the CIA's Iraqi weapons of mass destruction task force, the warnings were unwelcome. "As I said last night, let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about," the CIA official wrote, according to information released Friday by Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein to support the Senate Intelligence Committee's blistering, 511-page critique of America's prewar intelligence. "However, in the interest of truth," the e-mail continued, "we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations." No such warnings were ever issued. As is now well known, Curveball turned out to be a complete and total fraud. The case is highlighted in the Senate report as a particularly egregious instance of flawed intelligence collection and analysis. On February 5, 2003, one day after the CIA official wrote the e-mail that "this war" would happen, Secretary of State Colin Powell repeatedly cited Curveball's information as he painted a graphic portrayal of "biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails" for the UN Security Council. Powell called the alleged germ-producing vehicles "one of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq." Curveball described himself as a defector who had been a project engineer who supervised the design and production of germ warfare factories in Iraq before fleeing to Europe in the late 1990s. He claimed to be a prime source of intelligence for Germany's intelligence service as of 2000. German intelligence later provided Curveball's information to the Pentagon's Defense Human Intelligence Service, which shared it with the CIA. The American who met with the Iraqi defector in May 2000 is identified in the Senate report only as a Defense Department "detailee" to the CIA who advised the agency on bio-weapons issues. No other US intelligence official was allowed to meet or interview Curveball, or even meet regularly with his German debriefers, before the war. One result was that the CIA was never sure what Curveball, who spoke English, really was saying in the 112 reports they received from his debriefings.
- Many of the details in the Senate committee report concerning Curveball were deleted by the CIA on grounds that publication might compromise intelligence sources and methods. But between the blacked-out words, paragraphs and pages, a picture emerged of surprising carelessness concerning the claims that ultimately would provide a crucial part of the White House case for war. According to the report, the Defense Human Intelligence Service, known as the DHS, began reporting in early 2000 that an Iraqi defector claimed to have worked on a project in Iraq to construct seven mobile biological production units capable of spewing out anthrax and other lethal pathogens. By 2002, the CIA had spy satellite photos of buildings on farms that the defector had said were used to hide the germ production trucks. A CIA analyst told the Senate committee that the high-altitude pictures of buildings were considered corroboration, even though "we couldn't find any evidence of the [mobile bio-production] plants being there." But the Senate report said the DHS, which had primary responsibility for handling the Curveball case, "limited themselves to a largely administrative role, translating and passing along reports" from Germany. The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, in turn, said the information "appears to be of major significance" despite "reporting inconsistencies." The one American who had met Curveball in May 2000 expressed his doubts, however. The official "thought this guy might be an alcoholic and that bothered him a lot," a CIA analyst familiar with the case told Senate investigators. The official repeatedly "locked horns" with the CIA's lead analyst on Iraq's biological weapons "over the reliability" of the defector's account. In one of the conversations, the report noted, the CIA analyst told the American official not to worry because the CIA had "multiple sources reporting on the program." The American official wasn't convinced.
- In an e-mail to the deputy chief of the CIA's Iraqi weapons of mass destruction task force on February 4, 2003, the American warned of his "concern with the validity of the information" from Curveball. German officials, he added, "were having major handling issues with him and were attempting to determine if in fact, Curveball was who he said he was. These issues, in my opinion, warrant further inquiry before we use the information as the backbone of one of our major findings of the existence of a continuing Iraqi [bio-weapons] program!" The American official later told Senate staffers that he had "had many discussions" with CIA analysts prior to 2003 "about my concerns with Curveball as this whole thing was building up and taking on a life of its own. I was becoming frustrated, and when [I was] asked to go over Colin Powell's speech...and I went through the speech, and I thought: 'My gosh, we have got -- I have got to go on record and make my concerns known.'" To help determine who was right, the Senate Intelligence Committee staff last fall asked US intelligence officials for an assessment of Curveball and his reliability. The results were not reassuring. In December, the DHS intelligence officer who had been responsible for collecting and reporting intelligence from Curveball's debriefings in Germany wrote a report for the committee asserting that the defector "is not a biological weapons expert" and "never claimed that the project he was involved in was used to produce biological agents." Since that flatly contradicted previous DHS claims about Curveball's credentials, the Senate committee asked for clarification of "what appeared...a serious discrepancy." In January, the DHS admitted its earlier report "contained several errors" and issued a correction. The DHS officer later told the committee that he had "misread some of the intelligence reports" on the case he had supervised. Those "errors" and "misreadings" were used to lead America into war. (Los Angeles Times/Truthout)
- July 11: The Senate Intelligence Committee is gearing up for the second, and more politically explosive, phase of its investigation into the run-up to war with Iraq. The members have been asked by committee chair Pat Roberts to submit lists of claims made by White House officials and other policymakers that would be scrutinized to determine whether they were exaggerated or unsupported by intelligence assessments available before the invasion of Iraq. As part of the second phase of its probe, the committee has collected dozens of documents and conducted detailed interviews about a controversial intelligence unit at the Pentagon. The unit had challenged CIA conclusions that Iraq was not collaborating with al-Qaeda. In addition, Senate investigators are beginning to compile evidence for a probe of the role the Iraqi National Congress played in building the case for war. Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile leader and INC founder, had close ties to some senior Bush administration officials before the relationship soured amid recent allegations that Chalabi had leaked American secrets to Iran. The INC has also been accused of funneling flawed intelligence to the United States as part of a decade long campaign to oust Saddam Hussein. Each of these areas of inquiry carries the possibility of embarrassing disclosures for the White House, which was left largely unscathed by the Senate report delivered Friday. For that reason, the second phase of the investigation is already a subject of deep political tension on the Senate Intelligence Committee, with Democrats pressing to complete at least portions of it before the November election, and Republicans battling to slow the progress of the report until after the elections. The committee is now tasked with scrutinizing the assertions from the White House based on the intelligence it criticized from the CIA and other intelligence agencies; Republicans had previously argued that such an exercise was beyond the jurisdiction of the committee but agreed to assess administration statements in a compromise. A congressional official says that evaluating administration claims "should be the quickest of all" the remaining pieces to be completed. "We know what the intelligence said, we know what people said. Now we can compare the two," the official says. But political and procedural hurdles will drastically slow the report's completion.
- Another key front for investigators is the role of an analytic unit set up at the Pentagon by Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. Feith has defended the work of the unit, saying it was intended to help policymakers better understand state sponsorship of terrorist groups. But in supplementary documents attached to last week's Senate report, Democrats portrayed it as an effort to undermine the CIA. One of the unit's analysts told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials in 2002 that the CIA's views on Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda "ought to be ignored." The Pentagon unit produced a presentation that argued the CIA was underestimating Iraq's relationship with al-Qaeda; when the unit failed to influence the CIA's judgments, the group "simply took their case directly to the White House" where they knew they had plenty of supporters. The CIA's conclusion that Iraq had a history of contacts with al-Qaeda, but that there was no evidence of collaboration, has since been endorsed by the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks and the Senate Intelligence Committee. Democratic senator Jay Rockefeller has questioned whether Feith's office was involved in illegal intelligence activities. He says the committee was examining Feith's "relationship with the INC and Chalabi," and seeking to determine whether he was "running a private intelligence [operation], which is not lawful" Rockefeller seems to be referring to a 2002 meeting between two Feith aides and Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian businessman who was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. Rumsfeld has confirmed the meeting, saying officials had held discussions with Ghorbanifar, who apparently was offering information on Iran, but that the talks "went nowhere." That characterization is suspect. (Los Angeles Times/Truthout)
- July 11: A report shows that new electronic voting machines performed far less satisfactorily than paper-ballot machines in Florida's recent Democratic primary elections. The electronic machines failed to record more than 1% of the votes cast, over eight times the rejection rate of the paper ballot machines. Most of these were undervotes, a term made infamous in November 2000 when over 61,000 undervotes (ballots which do not clearly state a choice), most of them for Al Gore, were rejected as part of George W. Bush's 537-vote "victory" in Florida. (New York Times/Truthout)
- July 11: The Washington Post profiles one of the original rebels against Saddam Hussein, Iraqi human rights activist Kanan Makiya, whose 1989 book Republic of Fear first alerted the West to Hussein's depredations. Makiya is still staunchly committed to a free and democratic Iraq, but now finds himself at odds with the US, whom he tried to view as liberators before reality proved differently. Post columnist Lawrence Kaplan, a New Republic editor, observes, "Just as it has moved from de-Baathification to re-Baathification, from non-sectarianism to accommodation with Iraq's tribes and militias, and from idealism to realism, the United States has been steadily distancing itself from progressive Iraqis who bet their lives on Washington's high-minded rhetoric. None has been jettisoned so abruptly and inexplicably as Makiya, who, no less than John Paul Vann 30 years before him, has come to embody America's declining fortunes in a foreign war." Makiya was not always persona non grata with the Americans; as recently as April 2003, he watched alongside President Bush as US Marines toppled the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square, and shortly thereafter was sent by the US to Iraq to continue collecting the government documents that prove Hussein's record of mass murder and civilian atrocities. Makiya, who has been collecting evidence of such atrocities since 1992, has a building's worth of material -- execution orders, accounts of interrogation and torture, assessments about the trustworthiness of secondary school students. "Acknowledgment is something we owe the victims," Makiya explains, "otherwise we will see an attempt to erase the past." Yet recently the US has withdrawn its support for Makiya. Last year the administration requested $1 million from Congress to fund the Makiya's Memory Foundation. Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer, however, never passed the funds on to the foundation. Instead he signed an order establishing his own National Commission for Remembrance, whose mission duplicates that of the Memory Foundation -- and which he funded to the tune of $10 million. Then, on the same day that US forces raided Ahmed Chalabi's house in Baghdad, the CIA descended on Makiya's home, despite the fact that the human rights activist has no use for Chalabi's shenanigans or, indeed, for any cause other than the commemoration of Iraq's past. Makiya's American supporters believe he has been caught in the turf wars between the Pentagon and the State Department. Kaplan writes, "As for Makiya himself, the soft-spoken academic has no idea what lies behind the rejection of his work. He sees the experience as simply another metaphor for America's retreat from its avowed aim of a liberal Iraq. Which it is." (Washington Post)
- July 11: "Everything [the Bush administration has] put into play since September 11 has come up horse turds," says former ambassador Joseph Wilson to the Sopris Foundation State of the World Conference. Wilson is best known for the deliberate outing of his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, by as-yet-unnamed Bush administration officials, but Wilson does not make this the prime focus of his address. Wilson is highly critical of Bush's belligerent foreign policy, which has made its reputation for refusing to negotiate with allies and opponents alike. Wilson says that without connections and coalitions with other governments, acquaintances and the press that he and other officials used, Wilson said that Americans held hostage in Iraq would not have been released before the Gulf War. "American leadership is about forming coalitions," he says. "We have friends, or used to have friends, who would do these things for us. Who is going to do that today?" Wilson says that the Bush administration has cut valuable international ties that could help him win support in post-war Iraq. The ambassador said that by practicing "radical reactionary" politics to push their own agenda, the current administration "has taken the party so far outside the parameters of political behavior they have ruined the reputation of the United States." (Daily Sentinel/Truthout)
- July 11: Experts in the area of sexual research say that the Bush administration has created "a climate of intimidation and censorship," interfering with research and denying federal grants. One group, Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based organization devoted to adolescent sexual health, received government grants without much trouble for three years. Then last year it was subjected to three federal reviews. AFY's president, James Wagoner, says the reviews were prompted by concerns among some members of Congress that his group was using public funds to lobby against programs that promoted sexual abstinence before marriage. Although that was not the case, Wagoner said, the government officials made their point. "For 20 years, it was about health and science, and now we have a political ideological approach," he says. "Never have we experienced a climate of intimidation and censorship as we have today." Many professionals like Wagoner are now speaking out against what they say is growing interference from conservatives in and out of government with their work in research, education and disease prevention. A result, these professionals say, has been reduced financing for some programs and an overall chilling effect on the field, with college professors avoiding certain topics in their human sexuality classes and researchers steering clear of terms like sex workers in the title of grant applications for fear of drawing attention to themselves.
- "Programs almost have to hide what they do, says Richard Parker, a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. "We have a major challenge ahead of ourselves." Parker is a co-chairman of the International Working Group on Sexuality and Social Policy, an association of researchers and other professionals, which released a report two weeks ago citing examples of what it called sex policing under the Bush administration. The report cited, for example, changes in factual information about sex education and HIV transmission on government Web sites as well as questioning by members of Congress about research grants approved by the National Institutes of Health. Conservative members of Congress and groups defend the new scrutiny, saying some research on sexuality is frivolous and a waste of taxpayer money. When Republican representative Patrick Toomey wanted to stop the National Institutes of Health from spending $1.5 million on studies he said were wasteful and unnecessary, he pointed to what he described as research on the sexual habits of transgender American Indians and "people's reaction to being aroused when they're in different moods." The spending had been vigorously opposed by the Traditional Values Coalition, a group that represents a group of conservative churches. Toomey's effort to cancel the grants through legislation failed in a House vote last July.
- In May, the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists called the Bush administration's increased financing of abstinence-only programs at the expense of comprehensive sex education a violation of children's human rights. "Over 40 percent of 15-year-olds are sexually active and they're not getting information on how to protect themselves from pregnancy and diseases," says Barnaby Barratt, the association's president. In June, Nils Daulaire, the president of the Global Health Council, an international group of health care professionals, denounced the Bush administration's decision this year to drop $367,000 in financing for the council's annual conference, which he said was the first time the federal government had withheld sponsorship in more than 30 years. Daulaire said recently, "It's time to say to those who would stifle debate and dialogue, and to those in power who would allow them to prevail, Have you no shame?" A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, Bill Pierce, said the government pulled the financing because the council could not demonstrate that the money would not go to lobbying efforts, which he said would be an illegal use of federal money. But Daulaire said that anti-abortion groups had objected to the participation of speakers from the International Planned Parenthood Federation and other groups that back abortion rights.
- Wagoner, who says there is no reliable evidence that abstinence-only programs work, said his Advocates for Youth organization had to cut programs in black colleges and among gay, lesbian and transgender young people that sought to prevent HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases and suicides. Wagoner's group was not the only one to face new reviews. Last year, the Center for Aids Prevention Studies at the University of California in San Francisco was among four grant applicants for which Republican members of Congress sought unsuccessfully to rescind financing after it had already been approved. One of the center's studies proposed to look at drug use and other risky behavior among female Asian sex workers at massage parlors in San Francisco to develop culturally appropriate efforts to prevent drug abuse and HIV. "We were amazed that there would be an interference with critical science that's trying to save people's lives, says Cynthia Gomez, a co-director of the center.
- The additional scrutiny is also affecting government agencies. Last February, a stinging critique of the administration's use of scientific information by the Union of Concerned Scientists included a testimonial from Margaret Scarlett, an epidemiologist who left the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001 after 15 years with the agency because of what she called "an unheard-of level of micromanagement in the programmatic and scientific activities of the CDC." Scarlett, who now works as a private health consultant in Atlanta, says she is disturbed by the trends in the agency to promote condoms as ineffective in preventing disease, to omit information about contraception on Web sites and to oppose new financing for comprehensive sex education programs. "The next generation of researchers is not going to pick this topic," says Parker. "students basically say they're afraid of being a target and not having the possibility of career advancement if they choose to go into this area." (New York Times)
Adminstration inquiring into procedures for canceling November elections
- July 12: The head of the newly created US Election Assistance Commission, DeForest Soaries, has asked for information on the procedure necessary to cancel the November elections in case of "national emergency." Soaries's letter to Homeland Security head Thomas Ridge has prompted Ridge to make inquiries to the Justice Department, asking the Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were a terrorist attack to take place. Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call. Homeland officials say that as drastic as such proposals sound, they are taking them seriously, along with other possible contingency plans in the event of an election-eve or Election Day attack. "We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election," says Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland spokesman. On July 13, White House press secretary Scott McClellan tells the press, "I don't think anyone can make guarantees [that the elections will be held in November]. But the full intention is to move forward and hold those elections." And dozens of media pundits and commentators have speculated on such a cancellation. The ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Jim Turner, says that he has seen no information whatsoever on any terrorist plans to attack the election process.
Ridge says his department has "credible and specific evidence" of such plans, but refuses to give any details. Democrat Robert Wexler says, "This administration has a long track record of using deceptive tactics for political gain. One cannot help but question whether their aim was to deflect attention from the Kerry-Edwards ticket during their inaugural week." Liberal news site Buzzflash opines of the Soaries letter, "so, it's got all the Rove fingerprints on it. A relatively unknown Republican...is appointed to head an obscure new commission. Then he writes a letter demanding that plans be made to cancel -- or 'postpone' -- the election if necessary. Then Tom Ridge carries the water, as trial balloons are floated to the favored GOP lapdog leak recipient at Newsweek, Michael Isikoff, he of the Linda Tripp 'story' fame. ...What terrorist attack could prevent a national election from being held? You see, the Bush Cartel could claim that they have solid information of an imminent attack and postpone the election because they don't want the terrorists to influence the outcome, because, they would argue, that would give a victory to the terrorists. Which is all another way of saying, the Republicans don't plan on yielding power under any circumstances, the will of the people be damned. Chilling beyond belief." Some observers besides Wexler say that the announcement is timed to take media attention away from the declaration of John Edwards as John Kerry's running mate, as well as reinforcing the Bush/Cheney camp's implication that Islamic terrorists want Kerry to win in November. (Newsweek/Buzzflash, Washington Post, Maureen Farrell/Buzzflash, Reuters/CommonDreams, Cyberpresse/Truthout)
False intelligence about Iraq terrorist ties circumvented CIA, given directly to Cheney and Rumsfeld and used as pretense for war
- July 12: A long-simmering furor over a secret Pentagon intelligence cell that circumvented the CIA to present Bush officials such as Dick Cheney with fraudulent intelligence is finally boiling over. The Pentagon intelligence cell, created by Defense Department undersecretary Douglas Feith, is believed to have provided the White House with reams of uncorroborated, often inaccurate, and sometimes completely fabricated "information" about the so-called connections between Hussein's Iraq and al-Qaeda, information that was used by Bush officials to justify the March 2003 invasion. The information about Feith's intelligence cell is contained in a supplement of the Senate Intelligence Commission's report on pre-invasion intelligence failures. Feith's cell was an adjunct to the secretive Office of Special Plans, created by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz after 9/11; Feith's cell existed to find, or manufacture, evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Hussein. Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic co-chairman of the commission, says that Feith's cell may have undertaken "unlawful" intelligence-gathering initiatives. The claims will lead to calls by Democrats for the resignation of Feith, the third-ranking civilian at the Department of Defense and a leading "neo-con" hawk. "Tenet fell on his sword," says one Democrat official, "even though it's clear that he was placed under tremendous pressure to come up with the 'right' intelligence product for the administration on Iraq. The testimony to the committee on Feith and other Pentagon officials shows just what kind of pressure was being exerted. And when that didn't work, the Pentagon was just coming up with its own answers and feeding them to the White House. And on al-Qa'eda they got it all wrong." The commission's report confirms that the CIA and other intelligence agencies found no evidence of any links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. A CIA report from June 2002 making this case was dismissed by Feith, who told his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, that the report should be read "for content only -- and CIA's interpretation should be ignored." Feith subsequently gave his own briefing to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz which sharply criticized the CIA report; later, on September 16, 2002, Feith's cell briefed Cheney and a deputy to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice; the briefing contained, among other items, a false package of information about links between Iraq and hijacker Mohammed Atta which were subsequently presented as facts to the American people by Bush, Cheney, and others. CIA director George Tenet did not learn of the Feith briefings until March 2004. (Daily Telegraph)
- July 12: Republican congressman Tom DeLay, beset by ethics charges concerning his fundraising activities, is shown in newly obtained documents to have pressured corporate donors such as Enron for money to help him in his successful efforts to have Texas redistricted for the benefit of the state GOP. An e-mail from Enron's top Washington lobbyist, written in May 2001, shows DeLay pressing the corporation for an additional $100,000 contribution, on top of the $250,000 Enron had already donated to the national Republican Party; DeLay said that the donation should come from "a combination of corporate and personal money from Enron's executives," with the understanding that it would be partly spent on "the redistricting effort in Texas." The e-mail was sent by lobbyists Rick Shapiro and Linda Robertson to Enron CEO Kenneth Lay. Over a dozen similar documents show that DeLay and his associates directed corporate donations into GOP coffers in Texas during 2001 and 2002 to help him pass a plan to redraw Texas's congressional districts. As a result of the redrawing, the Texas GOP seized control of the Texas House for the first time since the 1870s, more Republicans were elected to the US House of Representatives, and DeLay is more likely to retain his post as House Majority Leader. 26 more Republicans were elected to the Texas House, and 5 previously Democratic seats in the US House are expected to fall to Republican candidates due to the redistricting. Unfortunately for DeLay, he seems to have broken numerous federal and state laws in the process; a Texas criminal prosecutor is almost two years into an investigation of DeLay's fundraising, and a lawsuit asks $1.5 million in damages from DeLay's aides and from his TRMPAC political action committee on behalf of four defeated Democratic lawmakers. (DeLay himself has not yet been named as a target of the investigation.
- It is clear that DeLay was central to handling the fundraising. Questions still remain about the day-to-day operations of TRMPAC (Texans for a Republican Majority) and how its money benefited Texas House candidates. Several weeks ago, DeLay hired two criminal defense attorneys to represent him in the probe. He previously created a fund for corporate donors to help him pay legal bills related to allegations of improper fundraising, and is now considering extending its reach to include the fees for these attorneys. Though DeLay insists he followed the law, many corporate donors were told in TRMPAC fundraising letters not to disclose their contributions publicly. Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney handling the investigation, says the case "is only one piece of a much larger picture. And the larger picture is a blueprint of what is happening in the country, namely a saturation of the political process by large corporate interests with large amounts of money." Earle, an elected Democrat, has come under fire for supposed partisanship in his investigation; Earle has a history of aggressively prosecuting politicians without regard for party affiliation. In the past he has prosecuted four Republicans and twelve Democrats for corruption or election law violations.
- DeLay is also being investigated for TRMPAC's ties to the National Republican Party; DeLay is one of the national GOP's largest fundraisers, doling out money lavishly in return for absolute loyalty to the party agenda, and ruthlessly punishing Republicans who refuse to toe the party line. Earle is also investigating these Washington fund allocations.
- One of the main focuses of Earle's investigation highlights the events of May 2003. As the redistricting plan came up for a vote, a number of Democratic lawmakers, frustrated with the autocratic methods the Texas GOP was using to ram the legislation through the House, bolted the state in a boycott of the vote. Speaker Tom Craddock, a DeLay ally, ordered state police, the Federal Aviation Admininistration, and the Department of Homeland Security to track down the lawmakers. The effort was closely coordinated with DeLay, whose chief political aide Julie Ann Sullivan telephoned the Federal Aviation Administration to find a plane used by some of the Democrats. The House approved the redistricting plan on Oct. 12, 2003. TRMPAC never reported the bulk of its corporate spending to the Texas Ethics Commission; it was reported only to the Internal Revenue Service, a discrepancy first noticed by a nonprofit advocacy group called Texans for Public Justice. The money not only should have been reported, it should not have been used for politically related expenses, and the Republicans' use of DHS and FAA resources to track down the Democratic lawmakers is highly suspect and probably illegal. (Washington Post)
- July 12: The White House announces plans to open up tens of thousands of acres of previously protected national forests to logging. The plans reverse a Clinton-era rule that prohibited logging companies to build access roads deep in protected forests; now logging companies may build virtually at will, and state governors must petition Washington to stop road-building and subsequent logging. The administration says it will reinstate for 18 months an interim rule requiring that Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth approve any new road construction in previously protected areas. Officials said they expect few, if any, changes in roadless policy during that 18-month period. Vehement protests by environmental groups are expected to be ignored. (Seattle Times)
- July 12: Of the 5 Republican representatives sitting in judgment on Tom DeLay on the House Ethics Committee, four of them accepted money from DeLay's PAC. "I think all the members hate" serving on the committee, says Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan government watchdog. "You're put in the position of either doing nothing -- which is what they generally do -- in which case you are fairly criticized for not taking your job seriously. On the other hand, you can try to enforce the rules and get all the other members angry at you." Democratic representative Chris Bell claims DeLay illegally solicited campaign contributions in return for legislative favors and laundered illegal corporate contributions for use in Texas elections. Bell also alleges that DeLay improperly used his office to solicit help from federal agencies in searching for Democratic legislators who slipped out of Texas during last year's redistricting fight. Five Republicans and five Democrats sit on the Ethics Committee, officially known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct; it takes 6 votes for a complaint to move forward. (AP/Daily Texan)
- July 12: Human rights activist Medea Benjamin writes an essay comparing Venezuela to Saudi Arabia, particularly their respective treatment by the US government. Both are heavy oil contributors to the US. Saudi Arabia is a repressive theocratic oligarchy that violently suppresses dissent, censors the press, and is heavily involved in support of al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists. This is the nation which receives heavily favored treatment from the US. Venezuela, on the other hand, is a vibrant, almost rowdy democracy, with a harshly independent press and a presidential recall election scheduled for August 15. This is the nation which receives tremendous criticism and pressure for "regime change" from the US government. Benjamin writes, "In the nearly three years since the 9/11, attacks the Bush administration has been criticized for failing to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the support provided by wealthy Saudi families to Al Qaeda and madrassas -- the schools that train Saudi youth to hate America. During that same period, the Bush administration stepped up its verbal attacks on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Moreover, the Bush administration's involvement in removing democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti earlier this year heightened fears in Venezuela that President Bush will try to intervene in Venezuela -- after all, the Bush administration was the only government in the hemisphere that approved of the 2002 coup. Making matters worse, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) -- a group funded by the US Congress -- has financed Venezuelan opposition groups, including some who participated in the April 2002 coup, to recall President Chavez. This is a potential violation of Venezuela's election laws and the NED's own charter. Regardless, it is illegal in the US for political candidates to accept money from foreign governments and we should abide by the same standard in other countries. Though Venezuela continues to cooperate with the US military on anti-drug and anti-terrorist operations, and is making business deals with multinational corporations from Chevron-Texaco and ExxonMobil to Ford, the Bush administration still wants Chavez out. By way of contrast, the Saudi royal family spends millions every year on lobbyists and public relations specialists to court presidents and members of Congress. It has an especially cozy relationship with the Bush family. According to Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, the Saudi government promised President Bush it would press OPEC to increase production quotas and lower the cost of oil before the November elections in the United States -- a goal it has partially achieved. ...[T]he US government should recognize that Venezuela is certainly a more reliable friend than Saudi Arabia. Congress should investigate whether any National Endowment for Democracy funding went to 2002 coup leaders or violated local election laws. And for its part, the Bush administration should publicly proclaim its support for electoral democracy in Venezuela -- even if that means that Chavez finishes his term and is re-elected in 2006." (CommonDreams)
- July 12: Liberal pundit William Rivers Pitt warns that the virtually equal split among the electorate in 2000 will manifest itself yet again in 2004, and that other factors besides the Democrats' touted "Anybody but Bush" groundswell of feeling will decide the outcome of the presidential election. For either side to spend too much effort trying to persuade the 100 million Americans "too lazy, disaffected or straight-up disgusted with politics to vote in 2000" is a waste of effort, as virtually all of them "will fail again in 2004 to summon the strength to raise their hands;" the ones who decide to vote will be counterbalanced by 2000 voters who won't vote this time around.
- So what factors will determine the election? First and foremost, the focus of the American media will play a huge role. While Michael Moore embarrassed the mainstream media with his slashing exposure of the so-called "MSM" as little more than water-carriers for Bush's run towards war with Iraq and an outlet for Bush campaign propaganda, the media has responded, not by cleaning house and refocusing on its mission as government watchdogs, but by churning out reams of self-justifying blather and cozying itself ever closer to the administration. "Moore has revealed them, shamed them, and their reaction has been predictable," Pitt writes. "Rather than cop to the fact that they blew it, the national news media now defends and props Bush as a means of defending and propping their own clobbered credibility. If Bush loses, they lose, and so every moment from now to November will bring a chorus of praise for Bush and a rain of jeering for Kerry. Spend an hour watching CNN and see the truth of this for yourself. This will have a significant effect on the race." So first off, Democrats cannot count on the media to help it in any significant way, but they can count on the media to hamstring their efforts to present their candidate's message by any means necessary.
- Secondly, the impact of electronic voting machines will be enormous. Again, this is an advantage for Republicans, since the manufacturers of these machines comprise, in Pitt's words, "a who's who list of conservative activists," and these manufacturers have consistently refused to produce machines with any sort of reliable record of votes cast. Pitt cites the example of Ohio, widely expected to be the key state in 2004, where Wally O'Dell, CEO of voting maching manufacturer Diebold, has pledged to help deliver Ohio to Bush any way he can. "We have a train wreck that's definitely going to happen," says Bev Harris, author of Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century, who has been at the forefront of the fight against these questionable, unverified voting machines. "We have conflict of interest, we've taken the checks and balances away, and we know the votes are already being miscounted fairly frequently. This is going to be huge." And it's going to have a tremendous negative impact on Democrats.
- Third is the wild card of terrorism. The media has done its job of so terrorizing the American public that it is primed and ready for any sort of terrorist action; if another attack even resembling the 9/11 attacks occur, the GOP mantra will be, "Do you want the terrorists to decide the election?" and millions of Americans will, true to their programming, flock to the banner of George W. Bush. "The implication will, of course, be that a vote against Bush is a vote for Osama," Pitt notes. "If the timing of such an attack falls close to November, a state of emergency declaration could well put off the election entirely. The chairman of a new federal voting commission appointed by Bush, DeForest Soaries, is already in the process of developing scenarios for such an occurrence."
- Pitt concludes that antiwar leftists may have the only possible leverage to counter, in any measure, the incalculable advantages enjoyed by the Bush campaign: "In such a narrow race, every vote and voter group counts enormously. Today, few groups have more power to throw the race one way or another than what could be deemed the 'Anti-War Left.' There is no single description to encompass this voter bloc. They are the people who were against the Iraq invasion from day one, the people who know the 'War on Terra' is an advertisement for incalculable profiteering by corporations in the business of war. They are the people who see corporate supremacy in America as a cancer affecting the air, water, soil and soul of the nation and the world entire. They are also the most undependable voter bloc in the country. They are nobody's base, because they hold principle above all else when it comes to politics. They will not cast a ballot for someone who has acted against the principles which are at the core of that anti-war sentiment. If a candidate appears to have gone against those principles, that bloc will bolt. In many respects, this is what politics in America should be about. Pragmatism should take a back seat to virtue, and people should be encouraged to vote their hearts instead of their fears and prejudices. Unfortunately, in this corrupted age, voting on the basis of principle alone allows the unprincipled to win the day. Voting with a strict moral code solely in mind allows those without morals to kick down the door and pillage at will. When confronted by problems that cannot be immediately fixed, the only solution is to focus upon the problems which can be fixed. In the matter of the 'Anti-War Left,' the problem which must be fixed is this: The idea that American elections are not about morals, or ethics, or principles, but power, must be seated firmly in the mind of any and all who see the country charging towards dissolution.
- "It comes down to power. Not who is good, or bad, or evil, or right, or wrong, or who fits a particular code of principled leadership. 'Who rules?' is the only question that matters today. If you doubt this, if the very idea sends you surging into a rage, consider the reality. We are currently ruled by a group of people who saw nothing wrong with using September 11 against the American people to start a for-profit war. They saw nothing wrong with destroying a deep-cover CIA agent according to the 'Kill one, warn one thousand' rule they needed to enforce to keep any other analysts who might blow the whistle in line. They authorize the use of brutal torture against innocent civilians. They fire out frighteningly nebulous terror warnings to distract Americans from stories that do not help them politically; a day after Kerry announced Edwards as his VP pick, for one example, Tom Ridge charged out before the cameras to shout yet another scary screed with no basis in fact. When Ashcroft came under fire for his handling of the Jose Padilla case, he told the people of Ohio that their malls were going to get bombed. Yes, Ohio again. These people are absolutely counting on a segment of the Left electorate to go sideways in November, to stand on their principles and vote third party or not at all. It is a central part of the game plan, one that has proven its effectiveness time and again. Water is wet, the sky is blue, up is above you, and the Left cannot put forth a cohesive front in any national election. There are axioms, and there are axioms. In an election like this, with the leadership we have, the more an absolute moral code becomes involved, the easier pickings you are for the ruthless. This election is not about morals, about principles, but simply about who rules. This is how our leaders and their corporate masters think of it, and so we must. There is so much to worry about beyond control. When confronted by problems that cannot be immediately fixed, the only solution is to focus upon the problems which can be fixed. How about this for a solution: Win first. Then be good." (Truthout [cached Google copy])
- July 12: In Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg, an unusually large percentage of the audiences for Fahrenheit 9/11 is made up of soldiers. One soldier, a machine-gunner who voted for Bush in 2000, says after viewing the film, "That was pretty thought-provoking. I guess I'm a little disillusioned. I've got a lot more questions than answers now." Another viewer, a military-intelligence and Afghan veteran, says, "Everyone thinks the military is so staunchly Republican. What this shows is that we're not all the same." At one theater in Fayetteville, the Cameo, over half of the audiences for the film are military, which surprises Duke University political scientist and military specialist Peter Feaver. Feaver says he believes there is a sense in the military that "the media is stabbing us in the back as they did during Vietnam" and Moore's film would seem to be "Exhibit A," he says. (Note: Most viewers of the film see no bias against the military; many military viewers see the film as sympathetic towards the troops. Just as notably, according to the book Embedded, there is a generally strong sense of cooperation between the troops and the journalists in Iraq. It's worth wondering about Feaver's own agenda.) The Cameo, which mostly shows foreign and independent films and isn't a usual stop for movie-watching soldiers, first booked the film without bothering to advertise it in the Fort Bragg newspaper: "Military people won't want to see it," said the film's area distributor. The first two scheduled shows sold out so quickly the theater added a midnight showing, and eventually added more showings until it was running the film five times a day. All the showings have sold out, even though showtimes aren't advertised. Staff Sgt. Billy Alsobrook, a missile repairman in a support battalion, says after buying tickets for him and his wife, "I hear they've got a lot of interviews with soldiers." Alsobrook's one-year tour in Iraq ended in February. He expects to return in September. He adds, "I want to see another point of view on Bush. It never hurts." The US Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which shows films on 164 US military bases around the world, is trying to get its hands on a print for showing. (Wall Street Journal)
- July 12: Questions about the accuracy of glowing reports on Dick Cheney's health have intensified now that his doctor, Gary Malakoff, has been discovered to be an addict of prescription drugs. The New York Times writes in an op-ed, "skimpy, upbeat generalizations have always been offered about Mr. Cheney, who has a history of heart ailments and complex ongoing treatment. In contrast, President Bush, by all accounts a picture of health, has released full details about his own checkups." The Times says that Americans deserve more information about the state of the health of the man who is "one heartbeat away from the presidency." "[V]oters are entitled to question the rosy prognoses," the Times writes. "The vice president must put aside his obsession with secrecy and finally offer a detailed report on his medical history." The same op-ed also urges Democratic candidate John Kerry to release his own medical records. (New York Times)
- July 13: US soldiers in Iraq are warning about the crop of "little Fallujahs" rising up all through Iraq, particularly in the so-called "sunni Triangle." Heavy fighting is occurring in small towns and villages throughout the region, mostly by Sunni insurgents who want American forces to leave them to police themselves. "The Baathists here are very good people," says an agricultural engineer in Buhriz. "They managed to maintain security and order right after the fall of the regime. They organized checkpoints in the town and prevented any theft or crime." Worse, from the US point of view, is the increasing popularity of radical Islamic teachings, such as Wahhabism, among the Sunni populace. "Yes, people's commitment to religion has increased, since religious scholars are so often condemning the occupiers as being the cause of all our troubles," says a Buhriz citizen. "Our religious teachings call for fighting the occupiers, especially when they are non-Muslim." (Los Angeles Times/Truthout)
- July 13: Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Rafael Seguis says his country would withdraw its troops "as soon as possible" after militants holding a Filipino truck driver hostage in Iraq advanced their deadline for beheading him by 24 hours. Seguis appears on Al-Jazeera in an effort to secure hostage Angelo dela Cruz's release. Filipino troops are already scheduled to withdraw from Iraq on August 20. To save Dela Cruz's life, the kidnappers say the Philippines must move forward by one month the planned pullout of its 51-member peacekeeping force in Iraq. Manila had rejected the demand when it was made, restating that its troop commitment ended August 20. Seguis now says the Philippines would pull its troops out "as soon as possible." When questioned as to when that would be, he says a pullout would come according to the government's commitments. (China Daily)
- July 13: Lobbyists from General Electric played a large part in drafting legislation that would save the company billions in taxes. In 2002, the World Trade Organization decreed that US tax laws violated international treaties; GE saved hundreds of millions of dollars a year in taxes from the export subsidies that the United States had to discard. Now GE has tailored a new piece of legislation that would replace the old export-promotion law in ways that would allow it to save as much, if not more, in taxes. "The bill is truly amazing," says Michael McIntyre, a tax law professor at Wayne State University and an expert on international corporate tax issues. "We had an incentive for exports that was illegal and had to be repealed. Now Congress takes the money saved by the repeal and uses it to reduce taxes on the income earned by US companies in foreign countries, thereby making foreign investment more attractive than US investment." GE has been joined by numerous other large corporations, all trying, and largely succeeding, in adding their own favorite tax benefits to the bill, which has swollen from a simple repeal of the $5-billion-a-year export subsidy to include more than $140 billion in corporate tax breaks over the next 10 years. But GE will be the big winner if the bill is passed. Democrats in Congress are fighting the bill, but their battle is an uphill one, opposed as they are by congressional Republicans and corporate lobbyists with the ear of senior Bush officials. (Washington Post)
- July 13: Many of the US labor organizations are supportive of Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards's campaign theme of "two Americas" and the economic and social divisions this country struggles with. Columnist Walter Williams writes, "Worsening income disparities -- greater than at any time since the 1920s -- have produced two critical gaps that threaten American democracy. Upper-middle- and upper-class families that constitute the top 10 percent of the income distribution are prospering while many among the remaining 90 percent struggle to maintain their standard of living. Further, a widening chasm separates the 13,400 families, who on average earn just under $24 million a year, from everyone else. Two Americas has undone the historic balance between the nation's two most important values: liberty and equality, which pull in different directions. Liberty implies that people have full freedom to do as they choose with their resources. Equality of economic opportunity requires a fair start for all those in the race toward success." Williams, a public affairs professor emeritus at the University of Washington, concludes, "Restoring the balance between liberty and equality demands that the redistribution of income upward must be redirected toward the bottom 90 percent. The wealthy will cry 'class warfare,' but it is the wealthy who began that war and created the dangerous imbalance. The great statesmen of the 18th century would applaud restoring the balance between liberty and equality because it would increase the life chances of most citizens and help breathe new life into a now-diminished American democracy." (Baltimore Sun/ILCA)
- July 13: In an all-too-familiar scenario, dozens of citizens in Duluth, Minnesota are turned away from a Bush campaign rally because they refuse to pledge to vote for Bush in the upcoming elections. "He's my president, too," says 58-year old Duluth resident Jan Witte. "I just thought I should be able to hear him speak." Earlier, campaign workers questioned those standing in line for tickets to the rally about their support for Bush, and refused tickets to those who said they either planned to vote against Bush or weren't sure of their vote yet. (Duluth News Tribune [cached Google copy])
Election oversight committee taking donations, perks from voting machine manufacturers
- July 13: Word leaks out of plans for Diebold, Sequoia, ES&S, and other voting machine manufacturers to wine and dine Election Assistance Committee members at the August 24-28 Election Center conference for federal and state election employees in Washington, DC; events include a dinner cruise on the Potomac and a "monuments by night" tour of the capital. Participation in such manufacturer-sponsored events is a huge conflict of interest, though not strictly illegal. Bush oversaw the creation of the EAC after the November 2000 election fiasco in Florida and is authorized through the "Help America Vote Act." EAC chairman Deforest Soaries, a former GOP candidate for Congress, recently wrote a letter to Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge asking for guidelines about the potential cancellation of the November 2004 elections, and requested that his agency be "the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election" if a terrorist attack is launched in the US. Columnist Amanda Lang writes, "It could not be more inappropriate for this non-profit, non-partisan organization to accept money and funding from Diebold, Sequoia, and ES&S whose machines they are tasked to monitor." The EAC, a supposedly nonprofit and nonpartisan agency, has admitted to taking huge "donations" from all three manufacturers. According to the conference schedule, one of the big topics of the day is "The Media: Fighting Back -- Getting the Story Straight." Lang asks, "Is the Election Center suggesting that it is now the responsibility or duty of election officials to influence media coverage and reporting that has in the past, been highly critical of the many documented failures and flaws of these companies voting machines?" (OpEd News)
- July 14: Saddam Hussein appears in an Iraqi court, facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is relaxed and defiant as he is questioned about the murder of dozens of Shi'ites in the town of Dujail, where he survived an assassination attempt in 1992. The court will try to prove his guilt in the executions and murders of over 140 Iraqis. A spokesman for the elected government, dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds who suffered in the three decades of Saddam's Sunni Arab-dominated rule, said this month that it was interested in a swift trial and death sentence for Saddam, and that therefore it was not necessary to prepare cases on all the many charges of genocide and crimes against humanity he faces. This appearance is a hearing before the actual trial, to take place in a court overseen by the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Four of Hussein's aides are also questioned about their role in the 1988 Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds, which murdered over 5000 Kurds, many with poison gas. (South Australia Advertiser)
- July 14: The Bush administration, contemptuous of the findings of the Senate's 9/11 investigation (see the July 10 item), embraces a British intelligence review that says "Britain had credible evidence that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger but inconclusive evidence that Iraq had actually purchased it. The evidence was established independent of documents, subsequently shown to be forgeries, that Iraq had procured uranium from Niger." (Frank Rich [PDF file])
- July 14: Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka has decided not to accept an offer from the Illinois Republican Party to run for the US Senate against Democrat Barack Obama. Ditka hints that Senate restrictions on outside income and outside business interests swayed his decision not to run. "I've had a lifestyle for a while. It's been pleasing to me. Not to others, but it's been pleasing to me. This would change it quite a bit." Ditka says he is upset that state Republicans are now considering not putting up anyone for the Senate race. "I don't think that's the right thing to do. I think you ought to fight. If I would have got in it, I would have fought," he says. He also doesn't understand why Republican nominee Jack Ryan dropped out of the race after his damaging divorce files were disclosed. "I don't think he did anything wrong that I know of. I haven't read all of the articles, but if I was him I'd go get a pair of boxing gloves and come out fighting, swinging, hitting, everything I've got. I hope I'd get the support of my party. If I didn't, it would be tough," Ditka says. (CBS2 Chicago)
- July 14: Two reporters, the Los Angeles Times's Matea Gold and the New York Times's Jim Rutenberg, are given one-day access to the inner sanctum of the Bush campaign's media war room in Arlington, Virginia. (The Kerry campaign turned down a similar request.) Gold and Rutenberg return with some interesting tidbits. Writes the Columbia Journalism Review's Liz Cox Barrett, "Both reporters demonstrate how the Bush crew seizes on a sound bite from Kerry's Boston speech, and feeds it (out of context) to a list of political reporters. (The sound bite in question is Kerry saying he is 'proud' of his vote against the $87 billion to fund military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kerry actually said he is 'proud' that John Edwards joined him in voting against the $87 billion 'when we knew the policy had to be changed.') Gold provides an effective chronological tracking of just how the Bush camp gets its selected Kerry sound bite -- complete with spin (Kerry is 'reckless') -- into the media's bloodstream." Among the media outlets reporting both the misleading Kerry sound bite and the Bush camp's retort are the New York Times, USA Today, Fox News, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press. (Columbia Journalism Review)
- July 14: Piling on to the mountain of evidence proving Fox News's right-wing bias, Media Matters for America reveals the contents of 33 internal memos circulated among Fox's senior staff. Included in the e-mails are the following statements:
The memos are from John Moody, Fox News's Senior Vice President, and Ken LaCoste, Fox's bureau chief in Los Angeles, and are from May-June 2003 and March-May 2004. (All the quotes are from Moody.) The memos were originally gathered by documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald for his film, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. Former Fox staffer Jon DuPre says the memos and those like them are "marching orders," and former Fox commentator Larry Johnson observes, "God help you if you stray" from the official talking points.
- Fox news executive John Moody on the 9-11 Commission: "Do not turn this into Watergate."
- On George W. Bush: "[Th]e president is doing something that few of his predecessors dared undertake: [pu]tting the US case for mideast peace to an Arab summit. It's a distinctly [sk]eptical crowd that Bush faces. His political courage and tactical cunning ar[e] [wo]rth noting in our reporting through the day."
- On Senator John Kerry: "starting to feel the heat for his flip-flop voting record" (the story here is that Fox, like the Bush campaign, is pushing the story of Kerry as a "flip-flopper").
- "As is often the case, the real news is [sic] Iraq is being obscured by temporary tragedy. The creation of a defense ministry, which will be run by Iraqis, is a major step forward in the country's redevelopment. Let's look at that, as well as the deaths of a US soldier in a roadside bombing."
- On Fallujah: "It's called Operation Vigilant Resolve and it began Monday morning (NY time) with the US and Iraqi military surrounding Fallujah. We will cover this hour by hour today, explaining repeatedly why it is happening. It won't be long before some people start to decry the use of 'excessive force.' We won't be among that group."
- "The events in Iraq Tuesday are going to be the top story, unless and until something else (or worse) happens. Err on the side of doing too much Iraq rather than not enough. Do not fall into the easy trap of mourning the loss of US lives and asking out loud why are we there? The US is in Iraq to help a country brutalized for 30 years protect the gains made by Operation Iraqi Freedom and set it on the path to democracy. Some people in Iraq don't want that to happen. That is why American GIs are dying. And what we should remind our viewers."
- "If, as promised, the coalition decides to take Fallujah back by force, it will not be for lack of opportunities for the terrorists holed up there to negotiate. Let's not get lost in breast-beating about the sadness of the loss of life. They had a chance."
- "The continuing carnage in Iraq -- mostly the deaths of seven US troops in Sadr City -- is leaving the American military little choice but to punish perpetrators. When this happens, we should be ready to put in context the events that led to it. More than 600 US military dead, attacks on the UN headquarters last year, assassination of Iraqi officials who work with the coalition, the deaths of Spanish troops last fall, the outrage in Fallujah: whatever happens, it is richly deserved."
- "[L]et's refer to the US marines we see in the foreground [of pictures coming out of Fallujah] as 'sharpshooters' not snipers, which carries a negative connotation."
- "[Le]t's spend a good deal of time on the battle over judicial nominations, which [th]e President will address this morning. Nominees who both sides admit are [qu]alified are being held up because of their POSSIBLE, not demonstrated, views [on] one issue -- abortion. This should be a trademark issue for FNC today and in [th]e days to come."
- "Two style notes: [serial murderer Eric Ru]dolph is charged with bombing an abortion clinic, not a 'health clinic.' ...[TO]DAY'S HEARING IS NOT AN ARRAIGNMENT. IT IS AN INITIAL HEARING."
- "John Kerry may wish he'd taken off his microphone before trashing the GOP. Though he insists he meant republican [sic] 'attack squads,' his coarse description of his opponents has cast a lurid glow over the campaign."
- On the 9/11 commission: "Remember that while there are obvious political implications for Bush, the commission is looking at eight years of the Clinton Administration versus eight months (the time prior to 9/11 that Bush was in office) for the incumbent." (This is worth noting primarily because it is such a strong GOP talking point.)
- "[Th]e tax cut passed last night by the Senate, though less than half what Bush [or]iginally proposed, contains some important victories for the administration. [Th]e DC crew will parse the bill and explain how it will fatten -- marginally - [yo]ur wallet." (Hyping the "good news" about the tax bill while shifting the focus away from how devastating the tax bill is for middle-class and working-poor Americans.)
- "For everyone's information, the hotel where our Baghdad bureau is housed was hit by some kind of explosive device overnight. ALL FOX PERSONNEL ARE OK. The incident is a reminder of the danger our colleagues in Baghdad face, day in and day out. Please offer a prayer of thanks for their safety to whatever God you revere (and let the ACLU stick it where the sun don't shine)."
- July 14: Author, law professor, and liberal commentator David Cole wryly recounts what he describes as his first and last stint as a guest on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News talk show, The O'Reilly Factor. A show producer called Cole on June 21 and asked him to appear that evening to comment on the claim that the Bush administration had overstated the value of evidence gathered from prisoners at Guantanamo, and the dangers posed by the prisoners in that facility. Cole, who had turned down several requests to appear on other O'Reilly shows, agreed this time. Cole arrived at the Washington studio and sat off-camera as the taping began. O'Reilly began with an assertion that he had established a definitive link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and then played a quote from the head of the Senate 9/11 commission, Thomas Kean, where Kean said, "There is no evidence that we can find whatsoever that Iraq or Saddam Hussein participated in any way in attacks on the United States, in other words, on 9/11. What we do say, however, is there were contacts between Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Iraq, Saddam -- excuse me. Al-Qaeda." Cole writes, "I was impressed. O'Reilly, who had announced his show as the 'No Spin Zone,' was actually playing a balanced soundbite, one that accurately reported the commission's findings both that there was no evidence linking Saddam and 9/11, and that there was some evidence of contacts (if no 'collaborative relationship") between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Maybe all those nasty things Al Franken had said about O'Reilly weren't true after all." Cole was nonplussed to hear an audibly angry O'Reilly halt the taping, saying "We can't use that.... We need to redo the whole thing." They re-recorded O'Reilly's opening, where he repeated his assertion of the Hussein-al-Qaeda link, but instead of playing the Kean quote, simply stated that Kean had confirmed "definitely there was a connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda." The part about no link to 9/11 was cut out. O'Reilly then brought on Cole, and segued into a complaint that our country is at war and should be united, but liberal newspapers like the New York Times was actively dividing the country by running biased stories that aided the terrorists. "The spin must stop -- our lives depend on it," he intoned. O'Reilly then mischaracterized the Times story as claiming that the Guantanamo detainees were "innocent people" and "harmless." He said the paper's article "questions holding the detainees at Guantanamo." Cole began by refuting O'Reilly's claim about the Times story, saying that the story said nothing like what O'Reilly was stating, and pointed out that the article relied on a CIA study finding that the detainees seemed to be low-level and had provided little valuable intelligence. Cole: "That didn't convince O'Reilly, however, who again criticized the Times for misleading its readers by terming the detainees innocent and not dangerous. I replied that he was misleading his own viewers, by exaggerating what the Times had said. 'No, I'm not,' he retorted. So far, the usual fare on newstalk television. But then I decided to go one step further: 'It seems to me like the pot calling the kettle black, Bill, because I just sat here five minutes ago as you re-recorded the introduction to this show to take out a statement from the head of the 9/11 commission stating that there was no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.' Apparently O'Reilly does not like being called 'the pot.' He exploded, repeatedly called me an 'S.O.B.' and assured me that he would cut my accusation from the interview when the show aired. He also said I would 'never ever' be on his show again. At this point, I wasn't sure whether to take that as a threat or a promise. Sure enough, when the O'Reilly Factor aired later that night, both Thomas Kean's statement about 9/11 and my charge about O'Reilly deleting it were missing. All that was left was Bill O'Reilly, fuming at the liberal media's lack of objectivity and balance, and ruing the divisive effect 'spin' has on our national unity." (Nation/CommonDreams)